Charles Hay Cameron as King Lear, 1872. Print by A. L. Coburn
The Missing Pieces derives its power from how it pitches its content against formal manipulation of two kinds of syntax: the order and patterning of the unit losses, and the word order and patterning of clauses between the bullets that separate those units. The poem’s content is non-fictional, hews close to fact, but it operates like fiction: as with King Lear or Ulysses or Star Wars, the poem grows bigger, and longer, as it names and addresses—and so, in a way, makes present—only cultural artifacts or producers or proposals which cannot actually be present. Lefebvre collects and collates perfectly immaterial materials, losses strung in the perfect order, along a 76-page-long wire.
Manipulating either of the poem’s principal syntagms, Lefebvre is pressed to find appropriate kinds and degrees of sameness and difference. The first syntactical challenge is less constraining, and less difficult to master, due to the sheer volume of the poem. Lefebvre has composed discrete, brief prose passages, some of which record the losses of several items, or persons, or chances, that the reader of The Missing Pieces is gradually instructed, by his work with each concise segment, in how to make sense of the poem. Carefully tuning himself to the variations and repetitions in the kinds of pieces Lefebvre presents, the reader comes to feel, and perhaps to understand intellectually, the bittersweet music of aggregated absences.